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Airbnb and Hidden Cameras: A Match Made in Disaster (and Lawsuits)

Airbnb has been a controversial topic for much of its existence. For those unfamiliar, it’s a service that essentially lets you “sub-let” your home or apartment whenever you want. Are you going to be out of town for a few days? Let a visitor to your city stay in your place while you’re away, helping someone to score something much more affordable than a hotel and letting you make a few extra dollars in the process.

airbnb-has-been-a-controversial-topic-for-much-of-its-existence

Naturally, landlords have a lot to say about this – as do insurance companies. Airbnb is likely expressly forbidden by your lease agreement (or if it’s not, it will be soon). However, this doesn’t stop would-be entrepreneurs from doing it anyway. Likewise, if anything happens to your home while you’re away, you’re probably facing an up-hill battle in terms of renter’s or homeowner’s insurance claims.

There’s also the curious case of “what happens if you hide a camera in your Airbnb rental, which your tenant then goes on to find?” That’s exactly what happened in Irvine, California in 2015 in a case that is currently playing out in the public court system.

The Hidden Camera

In 2015, a German woman was visiting the Irvine, California area to take in the sights and visit some friends. She was planning on visiting for a month, so instead of staying in a hotel she found a great deal on an Airbnb in the area and went about her business – or at least, that’s what she thought.

The woman indicated during an interview that she likes to sleep at night without any clothes on, which is partially where her problems began. After staying in the home for a few days, her partner discovered a hidden camera concealed beneath a pile of candles – which is when the horror set in.

She realized that in addition to nude footage of her – which she feared could easily make its way onto the Internet – the camera also recorded audio. This meant that all of her personal conversations – both on the phone and in the room – could also be “up for grabs,” so to speak.

The Legal Implications

The woman wasted absolutely no time filing two lawsuits – one against the owners of the home and one against Airbnb itself. In terms of the owners, the suit alleged invasion of privacy and emotional distress. The Airbnb suit took things a step further, alleging negligence. She argued that this is exactly the type of thing Airbnb should be working hard to protect against in the first place.

Airbnb was, not surprisingly, non-committal in its response. In an official statement issued to its website at the time, representatives from the company said that “We expect hosts to respect their guests’ privacy. Although we can’t provide you with specific legal advice, the use of surveillance equipment may violate the law in your jurisdiction.”

The law that Airbnb was referring to is very much in place in the state of California. California is a two-party consent state, meaning that any recorded conversation where both parties (or at least two parties depending on the size of the conversation) are informed is absolutely against the law. So at least from that perspective, the woman does seem to be on valid legal ground.

Unfortunately, this is also not a unique problem – at least as far as Airbnb is concerned. Earlier in 2015, another hidden camera was discovered in a rental property – this time in Canada of all places.

As hidden camera technology becomes more advanced and more affordable at the same time, you can absolutely expect this type of thing to continue to happen. Anyone renting ANY property that others have access to – be it an Airbnb or a more traditional hotel – should take steps to protect their privacy at all costs as a result.

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